Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Bogman Arms Pub Experience

What is that incessant ringing? Could it be Big Ben tolling the quarter hours? No, this is more of a chirping sound, but it's the middle of the night, isn't it, and is this the season for crickets in London? Tinnitus gone wild? Am I getting that old? Nope. It's the phone next to our bed that is bleating and the clock somehow reports that the time is 9:45 am. How can this be. We went to bed early last night and the day is now half over. We thought about answering it just long enough for it to cease ringing. Well, like Mom used to say, "If it's important they'll call back." I don't remember anyone ever calling back.

Thursday - September 22, 2011 - London, England

It was late morning when we exited the Gloucester Road tube station, crossed the street and entered the nicely appointed Montana Hotel lobby looking for Rick and Letty (they flew in with Lucy from San Diego on Tuesday afternoon and it had been Letty calling). Rich seemed much better, Kat and I were rested and Lucy was her normal smiling self. I don't think I've ever seen her tired. The Kensington neighborhood (La-dee-dah) of London is all wide streets with beautiful brass name-plated stately buildings lining both sides. Looking back on our little Metropolitan Railway Station it seemed both out of place and pleasingly quaint with it's 1940ish yellow brick walls and stone balustrade widow's walk on top.

We decided to wait outside since it was a perfect day for touring, nary a cloud in the sky and just cool enough for a comfortable stroll. Admiring the architecture it didn't take long for Rick to join us, followed moments later by Letty who bounded down the sidewalk clearly enjoying the moment. Her laughter is infectious. What plans did we have? None, really. How about lunch then, and a trip to the British museum to check out the Rosetta Stone? There was unanimous agreement, and with a tip from the hotel concierge we headed down the street to the local pub: The Hereford Arms. A lot of the hotels and pubs have "arms" in their names - have to remember to look that up.
(Ed. note: The Arms in hotel names refers to the coat of arms of the household that owned the establishment. Just FYI.)

It was really nice to have our first real "pub experience" with family and friends, and this pub made us all feel like family as well as friends. We grabbed a table and went to the bar to select a beer (we knew enough from our reading that pubs don't provide table service - you order at the bar and the food is brought to you). Since it was just before lunch we took advantage of the quiet time to ask the barkeep (Christiana by name) about the various beers. She offered us small glasses of each to taste, and I settled quickly on a brown ale. Rich has a more discriminating palate and sampled a few more, seeking out the perfect brew (a little more hopsy, and perhaps a tad darker, and oh by the way, do you have one that's a little warmer?). I think I heard the barkeep's keeper mumble under his breath something that sounded like - "Warmer? Give him a bottle off the shelf." I found it amusing. I would say our table had a pretty good representation of pub food; steak pie, fish & chips, soup, sandwiches and a Caesar salad, all of it delicious, and reasonably priced. We ate and laughed and told stories, learned about Rick and Letty, and had a marvelous time. It was a good introduction to the pub process.

We all wanted to go to the British Museum, but Kat and I preferred walking at least part of the way. So we set a meeting time, bid farewell to the others and headed north up Queens Gate, past some beautiful embassies, through Kensington Gardens to the edge of Hype Park. It's a great walk past the Royal Albert Hall with the cool monument right across the street (which is clearly not meant for climbing). The Albert Memorial was built to commemorate the death of Queen Victoria's husband, Albert (Obviously). They were both young when he died and she wore black for the remaining forty years of her life. There is nothing dark about this memorial. It is gilded and shines beautifully in the sunlight. Good job, Vicky.

There is a wide path that separates Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park along which is the Princess Diana memorial fountain, a place of peace. We meandered across the bridge over the Serpentine, losing ourselves and our normally good track of time. On a warm late summer afternoon, this was definitely the place to be.

Our little walk took almost an hour, and since we were still a good distance from the museum decided to grab a bus on Oxford Street. Big mistake. We now knew where everyone in London had been hiding out. This area, just north of Soho was packed with pedestrians, buses and taxis, none of which were moving. I had not seen gridlock with people before. Too many people, too little space. After investing 45 minutes on the bus route and wondering where the break-even point was, we bolted and walked the last 10 minutes to the museum. We hate to be late for anything, particularly meet-ups in foreign countries. We have some horror tales to tell. As it turned out, just as we entered the main courtyard (the largest covered public square in Europe) and thought we would never find anyone we knew, Rick called out to us from his comfortable seat by the door. He had not been waiting for us and didn't know where Rich, Letty, Lu, or for that matter The Rosetta stone were. Together we found all four of them in the same general area.

We laughed some more, took some pictures, and were completely oblivious to the swirl of people around us. Rick and Letty are a very nice couple and we can understand why they and Rich and Lu have been such good friends for so long. The four of them had seen everything they wanted (like us selective and possessive of time) so decided to head out. We had two items on our must-see list (the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles). Agreeing to meet Rich and Lu back home, just like that, they were gone and we were left with one of the finest museums in the world awaiting us.

To the stones.

The Rosetta stone (the most visited object in the museum) is amazing, not because it is imposing, or is remarkable in appearance. Two things really surprised us: we knew that the same text was written in 3 different languages (like a menu at a Chinese Restaurant in the American sector of Berlin) but the writing is so small one chisel slip would wreck the whole thing, and secondly it looks like big chunks of it are missing. Without a doubt, there was some pretty impressive stone cutting work going on back in 196 BC. And the second thing: what if one those missing chunks decoded some age old question (like why are we here) as neatly as the writing translated the Egyptian hieroglyphics? Just wondering.

The Elgin marbles are another story. They are large and bold, and remarkable in appearance. Housed in their own gallery you can easily imagine how they lined the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens in Greece. So can the Greeks, and they would like them back. Judging from the write-up on the little paper guide you take upon entering the room, that is not going to happen. Instead of explaining what we were seeing, there was a lengthy treatise on why the British Museum should keep the marbles right where they were, blah, blah, blah. To mis-quote a neighbor from the Southbank, "Methinks thou dost protest too much." With the financial situation Greece is in right now (sorry for the topical reference, you'll have to look it up), perhaps the museum could buy them and solve two problems at once. I am apathetic to the entire conflict. If I only had a heart.

It was just about closing time but we had one more thing (person? - I don't know, you decide) to see - The Bogman. We made a quick trip upstairs and in a case are the remains of this 1st century man discovered in the Lindow peat bogs. This dude is 2000 years old and he's like the Rosetta stone of bog people. An excerpt from the museum indicates why he is fascinating:

He was about 25 years of age, around 168 cm tall and weighed 60-65 kg. He had probably done very little hard, manual work, because his finger nails were well manicured. His beard and moustache had been cut by a pair of shears. There is no evidence that he was unwell when he died, but he was suffering from parasitic worms. His last meal probably included unleavened bread made from wheat and barley, cooked over a fire on which heather had been burnt.

The man met a horrific death. He was struck on the top of his head twice with a heavy object, perhaps a narrow bladed axe. He also received a vicious blow in the back – perhaps from someone’s knee – which broke one of his ribs. He had a thin cord tied around his neck which may have been used to strangle him and break his neck. By now he was dead, but then his throat was cut. Finally, he was placed face down in a pool in the bog.

Manicured fingernails? 2000 years ago roaming around the peat bogs perhaps looking for trouble. Or maybe he was involved in some religious sacrifice sort of thing. In any event that's some pretty impressive CSI thing going on there.

It was closing time, and even the extremely polite British get a little "Let's get a move on now folks" tone in their voice as they sweep the lingerers off the floors. We heard the door lock click behind us. Getting from the British Museum to our apartment was a piece of cake, easy now that we had learned how to read the bus signs. None of the four of us had any desire to find, then sit in a restaurant, so we decided that take-away from the myriad assortment of ethnic restaurants and produce stores on the High Street was in order. We had a mix and match assortment of Indian, fruits and veggies, and Middle Eastern topped with a nice bottle of Merlot. It had been a good day and we were all ready to hit the sack. Good night from London.

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